A drift away from Buddhism amongst Generation X Tibetans arouse grave concerns

While a group of around thirty followers swarmed into the
Buddhist teachings class of Pema Dorjee, a senior Tibetan monk
at the Nechung Foundation temple on 1st Avenue in the East
Village of Manhattan, the Tibetan youth of the neighborhood
gave it a mass miss.

“The Tibetan youth has already attained enlightenment,” joked Pema
Dorjee, switching now and then between Tibetan and English, “so, 
they don’t have the need to come around here,” Pema, (most Tibetans
do not have a surname or a family name, so their given names are 
treated like  family names), who has been holding Buddhism classes 
for the last fifteen years,  says it is common not to have any young 
Tibetan faces in his class, filled with Americans, older Tibetans, 
and Asians. “It would have been unusual the other way around,” said 

However, despite his sarcasm, Pema is concerned over the lack of 
young Tibetans at the only Tibetan Buddhist Temple in New York City.
Tibetan Buddhism is fairly different from other forms of Buddhism
in that it puts more emphasis on both the founder and the teacher 
rather than just one.

“It is highly important for the Tibetan youngsters to learn Buddhism 
as it is the basic foundation of our culture, tradition and language
,” he said. “And young Tibetans fail to understand that.”

Pema believes that a free Tibet will not hold any meaning if the 
Tibetan youth, who he calls ‘the future seeds of Tibet’, is not 
aware of the rich Buddhist religion, culture, language and tradition
 of Tibet.

Despite Pema’s concern, Tenzin Norbu Nangsal, a lecturer of Modern
 Tibetan and Language at Columbia University, has observed a slight 
rise in the number of Tibetan youths enrolling in his class over the
 last two years.

“We can not weigh the importance of the Tibetan Buddhism over the 
Tibetan culture as both are deeply intertwined,” said Tenzin. “All 
the rituals and cultural activities that Tibetans follow have 
glimpses of Buddhism and vice versa.”

Tenzin, who has been teaching at the University for the past eleven 
years, is of the opinion that the increase in the enrollment of young
Tibetans in his class is indicative of a rising interest, but the
interested percentage he says is still very small. Over the past 
two years there has been only 3 Tibetan students, he said.

Both Tenzin and Pema agreed, however, that one of the primary 
obstacles that is preventing the Tibetan youth from practicing 
Buddhism is the language factor.

“Tibetan Buddhism can be best understood in Tibetan, but most of 
these young Tibetans, growing up in America can not speak, read or 
write Tibetan, making it all the more difficult for them to follow 
the religion,” said Pema.

Pema founded a Tibetan community school on 32nd street in 1996 to 
help young Tibetans learn Tibetan language. The school, which Pema 
started with just 7 students, now has over two hundred students aged 
6 to 15, pouring in from across New York and New Jersey.

In his classes, Pema says he always works toward incorporating 
Buddhism teachings with the Tibetan Language lessons. But he is 
disheartened that these children do not practice any of these 
teachings after graduating from the school.

“They are good Buddhists as long as they are in the school, but right
after they graduate, they forget everything,” said a disdainful 

Sonam Choekyi, 44, mother of two high school aged children who also
attend the Community School on Sundays, began to value the Tibetan 
culture and tradition more than ever after coming to the US.

“With my kids growing up in America, I am really scared of them 
forgetting their language and culture. So, this school offers a good 
space to remain in touch with the roots,” said Sonam.

Sonam thinks it is important to know Tibetan Buddhism, but even more 
important to be a good human being.

“I want both my children to become nice people and because the 
Tibetan Buddhism preaches that I am happy about them learning the 
religion at the school,” added Sonam.
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Older Tibetan Americans Stay away from Mid-Terms

As voters cast their votes in the mid-term elections on November
 2nd, a sizable number of older Tibetan Americans in Jackson Heights, 
Queens, stayed away, citing that they had already cast their votes 
for their candidates...in October.

“I voted last month,” said Dorjee Tsering, a 64-year-old Tibetan
 American. “I voted for the very crucial preliminary election 
of the next prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile.”

Even after years of acquiring American citizenship,  many older 
Tibetans do not concern themselves with American  politics but
 instead they continue to actively participate in the exile 
Tibetan government politics.

Dorjee, who came to the US in 1992 after the enactment of 
the1990 immigration Act, has been an American citizen for
 the past 15 years. But he has never voted once and Tuesday’s
 election was no different.

“I am an American only on the papers,” said Dorjee. “In my
 heart and mind, I am a Tibetan and I will vote only for 
the Tibetan government.”

However, Dorjee’s idea of patriotism is not embraced by 
younger Tibetans who are increasingly taking a keen 
interest in American politics because they believe that 
the political party that will come into power not only 
has the power to influence the politics of America but 
the politics of the world, including Tibet, as well.

Tenzin Yangzom, 24, got her citizenship this year and 
said she went to vote first thing in the morning on 
Tuesday. Besides the excitement over her newly acquired
 status, it was the importance of voting that she said, 
excited her more.

“At times, the conformist views of the older Tibetans 
really anger me,” said Tenzin. “I don’t think voting 
as an American citizen will make one less Tibetan but
 it will surely change lot of thinks for the Tibetan

Reflecting on the election’s outcome, Tenzin thinks that
 the defeat of Nancy Pelosi as the speaker of the House 
is a big blow to every Tibetan as she supported the 
cause of Tibetans.

“Had the older Tibetans made their votes count, Pelosi 
may have won,” said Tenzin. “You never know.”

There are an estimated less than 6000 Tibetans in 
New York, the largest concentration of Tibetans in
 the United States and in the western world.

Meanwhile, Tsering Sangpo, the President of the Tibetan 
Community of New York and New Jersey attributes the 
lack of education and awareness as two other factors 
that could be keeping older Tibetans away from the 
election booths.

“Many of these older Tibetans are not educated and 
hence do not know how important the right to vote is,”
 said Tsering.
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Foster Parents Foster Child Growth

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Prospective parents all ears in Pat O'Brien's class

Since five of her seven children have already left home to be on their own, Rosmond Roll decided to fill the solitude in her parenting life to become a foster parent. Her days now are occupied with shuttles between different foster care training centers where she takes classes so as to better equip her for the new role.

“I have the time and the love to offer for more children,” she said.

The fifty-seven year old Dominican-American is in her 2nd of a ten-week Model Approach to Parent Preparation (MAPP) training and will soon join 10, 000 other foster parents of the New York City, to look after over 15,000 children. Every year, more than 5,000 children enter foster care in the city and Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) estimates that it needs to recruit more than 1,000 new foster parents annually to ensure a quick and stable home placement for the children.

Foster parents essentially provide a temporary, safe home for a minor until a permanent placement has not been made. Meanwhile, agencies seek permanency for children, in the shape of reunification with biological parents, adoption and permanent transfer of guardianship.

Length of stay in US Foster care

“We act like a stopover for the foster kids till they find a permanent placement,” said Julia Arnett, a 49-year-old foster parent of three children.

For several others however, ties with foster children don’t end as a temporary fix. Through the course of foster parenting, a number of individuals choose to adopt their foster children after having grown close to them.

Stephen McCall, 41, who has had 24 foster children, adopted three brothers aged, 21, 20 and 15 after foster parenting them for some years.

“The bond formed with the boys was very strong,” said he.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 54 percent of adoptions made in the country in FY2009, were by foster parents.

Jacqueline Garcia, 54, who is currently undergoing trainings to become a foster parent, is keeping the option of adopting children open.

“I will soon become a foster mom, then I might adopt as well,” said the mother of seven children.

“Because I know it’s highly likely to form attachments,” added Garcia, who is looking to foster care two kids, in the age group of 3 to 5 years.

However, foster parenting is definitely not the easiest task to handle, especially, with so many expectations that foster parents have to fulfill and skeptics that they have to listen to. Amongst the most common skepticism that foster parents have to battle with is the entire accusation of being in the foster system to make money.

“There are many foster parents who are in for the money,” said Sharabia Wilson. “My first foster mother was one of them.”

Wilson claims that her foster mother gave her only $60 of the $900 entrusted to her and she wont spend any extra money on anything else. Eventually, on a weekend, Wilson was kicked out of the foster care with nowhere to go, said she.

“If you are looking for money, get a job,” said Wilson. “Foster parenting is not a job,” added she.

However, Edith Holzer says that most foster parents are certainly not in it for the money.

“They have the room in their homes and they want to help needy children,” said Holzer.

“And for doing so, they depend on the money.”

Infact, many a times Holzer says that the foster parents have to reach out for their own pockets, as the money is never enough,

This, according to Stephen McCall is instrumental in the withdrawal of some foster parents. While the percentage of withdrawal is not very high, but the high cost of living and the low funding is burning out many foster parents, said McCall.

In such a scenario, it is highly important for the prospective foster parents to take good note of the preparatory classes as it prepares them for situations and makes parents out of them.

And a good foster parent, according to Jarel Melendez, Youth Advocate of Lawyers for Children, is very crucial as it can determine a child’s development.

Furthermore, foster parents are directly related to homelessness and incarceration amongst the foster children, said Melendez.

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